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Afghan pluses and minuses

Those watching the sequel to Moscow's pounce on Afghanistan might just as well put aside any notion that President Carter in Washington can do something soon which would cause the Soviets to turn around, go home, and let the Afghans revert their normal condition of political chaos.

There is nothing whatever that Mr. Carter alone can do which would have any such decisive result. There is not even anything he can do alone which could build a firm dike around the southern rim of the Soviet military frontiers.

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One essential fact which nothing in Washington's power can alter quickly is that the Soviet Government in Moscow disposes of an extremely efficient, highly disciplined, and very large land army which has asserted military dominance on the southern, downward slope of the Hindu Kush range of mountains.

Afghanistan bestrides that range of mountains. Any army which bestrides the range has a theoretical capacity to walk down either side.That is precisely why the British and the Russians reached a mutual agreement toward the end of the last century to leave it in the hands of the Afghans themselves on the sound theory that internal tribal rivalries among the Afghans would keep British and Russians at a safe distance from each other.

Well, that system has broken down largely because there is no single political force south of Afghanistan as there was in the days of the British Empire. It has its uses, did that Empire. It balanced off the Soviet Empire all through the Middle East and Southern Asia.* The fragmentation of the British Empire left a power vacuum. Moscow has sent its soldiers into a part of that vacuum. They will probably be there unless or until some new power system again arises south of the Hindu Kush.

It does not lie within the ability of anyone in Washington (a Mr. Carter or any of his rivals of either party) to alter this situation now, or in the immediately foreseeable future. Mr. Carter or one of his critics can shape a policy aimed at encouraging people who live south of Afghanistan to get together and form a defensive political coalition or consortium. In time, some such coalition might evolve, although the obstacles are formidable.

The biggest obstacle is the enmity which exists between India and Pakistan. Until that enmity is dissolved not much can be done about a regional consortium to balance off Soviet power.

So Moscow has a big plus in that part of the world. Its troops do bestride the Hindu Kush.* That is a power fact and is likely to be an important power fact for quite a time ahead. But that does not mean that all the pluses are on Moscow's side.

Communism as an instrument of Soviet purpose in world affairs had been damaged long before this intervention.But there has still been a little residue of value to Moscow in it. Even now, Moscow propaganda still uses "anticolonialism" as a vehicle, even though the only true empire around these days is Moscow's own.

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The first big shock to the idea of the Soviet Union as the champion of the common man came when Soviet tanks crushed a rising of workers in East Berlin in 1953. The second blow came when Soviets tanks crushed the workers of Hungary in 1956. The third was when those tanks once again stamped out what in truth was anti-imperialist movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Now we have another use by Moscow of armed force of Soviet power purposes which has not the slightest shred of anticolonialist justification behind it. This was just a plain, naked power grab precisely comparable to those grabs which British, French, Germans, and Russians were making back in the 18th and 19 th centuries when empire-building was considered to be proper behavior.

In view of this event it is difficult to see how anyone any longer could see the government of Moscow as being a benevolent instrument for freeing captive peoples or rescuing humankind from exploitation. Moscow has become nothing more and nothing less than an imperial capital consolidating by military power that world's only real surviving empire, and even adding to it at this late day in the 20th century when everyone else has gone out of the empire business.

Any politician in Washington, or aiming at being in Washington, who claims that he can solve the problem of Soviet power by some easy or quick device -- is a charlatan. Here is a problem for everyone else which can be resolved over a long period of time by forming alliances and building power. It will require wisdom, tenacity, military strength, and resolution -- over a good many years. There is no quick fix.


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